As we wrote in last week’s post, the busy holiday season is a stressful period for front-line teams. Getting blasted by an angry customer magnifies that stress 1,000 times, rattling the cool exterior of even the most seasoned agents.
Agents who aren’t prepared to handle these calls can only hope to survive them. In many cases, saving the customer relationship feels like a lost cause.
But it doesn’t have to be.
Every call, no matter how unpleasant, is an opportunity. Nine times out of 10, angry customers who reach out to customer service are open to a positive experience and a better brand relationship going forward. Otherwise, they wouldn’t bother calling.
Your agents have the power to turn things around. Knowledge and authority are important, of course. But to save the relationship, agents must also be able to communicate well.
Here are some strategies your agents can use to calm angry customers and restore their faith in the brand.
Agents, These 10 Practices Will Help You Seize Control and Win the Day
The angry customer isn’t your enemy; the unsolved problem is. If you think of yourself as the customer’s best advocate—and your manner and temperament reflect that—you can steer the conversation in a positive direction and make the best of any situation.
1. Get a good sense of your customer.
Angry customers are a diverse bunch. Some are curt, some are disrespectful, and some are downright hostile. But they all want to be seen, respected, and treated as individuals.
Before you get caught up in the details of the complaint, focus on the individual you’re connected with. Look at the customer’s brand history to understand the nature of the relationship and how far back it goes. Pay close attention to the customer’s knowledge level, personality, and tone so you can engage them appropriately.
2. Listen well.
Don’t cut the customer off midstream with an ill-timed “I’m sorry” or “I can help with that.” It’s an awkward, tone-deaf move that suggests you’re detached and eager to end the call, which will only add fuel to a raging fire.
If customers want to vent, let them vent! Give them time to air their grievances. Be the dispassionate investigator: focus on what’s being said, rather than how. Hit the mute button if necessary to block out background noise.
3. Respond sincerely.
If the brand has clearly made a mistake, a heartfelt, humble apology demonstrates caring and accountability and validates the customer’s view. Make your apology specific to the complaint, and assure the customer you understand the hardship the issue has caused.
If the complaint isn’t the result of clear wrongdoing on the brand’s part (the customer struggled with online self-service tools or wasn’t aware of a brand policy, for example), try following the PIA Principle: Power word, “I” statement, Assurance you’ll resolve the issue. Example: Oh my, I can only imagine what you’ve been through. Let me pull up your account. I can definitely check available options for you.
4. Dig deeper.
Ask the customer for additional details and clarification so you can identify underlying problems and demonstrate your commitment to solving them. After exploring the issue fully, you’ll be in a position to offer customers the best, most appropriate solutions for them—a great way to make them feel valued and possibly prevent future contacts.
5. Acknowledge the problem.
Once you’ve jotted down the details and pieced everything together, repeat back what you’re hearing and ask for confirmation. The customer will know you’re paying close attention, you’re on their side, and they’re in good hands. This simple gesture can quickly diffuse anger and shift the dynamic in a big way.
6. Propose a plan of action.
Let the customer know you’re taking ownership of the situation. Explain exactly what you’ll do to solve the problem and what the customer can expect. Commit to following up with the customer afterward.
If possible, provide your direct extension and/or email address as well as a ticket number so customers can easily follow up with you and check the status of their complaint. There’s no better way to show you’re on the case, you intend to follow through, and you’re accountable for the result. Customers will also feel better knowing they won’t have to start from scratch next time they call.
7. Use positive language.
An angry customer might ask for something you can’t deliver. Instead of saying “no” or “I can’t do that,” do what Apple Geniuses are taught to do: frame your answer in positive terms. With a smile on your face and a friendly tone, tell customers what you can do on their behalf.
8. Offer multiple solutions.
A bad brand experience can leave customers feeling frustrated and helpless. A take-it-or-leave-it customer service approach can have the same effect. Whenever possible, offer angry customers at least two choices so they can control the outcome of their service experience.
This is especially important when you’re dealing with customers who are fed up and ready to abandon the brand. If you present several options both the customer and the brand can live with, you stand a good chance of salvaging the relationship.
9. If a transfer is necessary, make it painless.
If you need to transfer an angry customer to someone else on the team or in the company, make it a warm transfer. Tell the customer who will be helping them and how, and ask for permission to transfer the call. Make sure the receiving team member knows the customer’s name and is aware of the issue.
10. Assure customers their feedback is helpful.
Before ending or transferring the call, take a moment to let the customer know their complaints and concerns have been noted. Assure them you’ll forward the information to your superiors, and on to the relevant brand teams, so the CX can be improved and other customers can avoid similar frustrations.
This isn’t something many companies tell their customers, even if they do follow up on complaints internally. By letting your angry customers know they’re stakeholders in the brand, you’ll make them glad they called and leave a lasting impression.